16 Images That Show Why I’m Proud to Live in the Pacific Northwest

It’s pretty hard to beat the Pacific Northwest as a place to hang your rain hat.

This post illustrates some of the things I love about home in the PNW, which I originally wrote for the Matador Network.

It all starts with the forces that form this land. As the Pacific plate slowly slides down under the North American plate, tectonic forces buckle the land giving rise to the volcanic Cascade, Olympic and Coastal Mountain Ranges. Meanwhile, wet Pacific winds get stacked up by these mountains, cool and drench their western slopes. After climbing over the mountains, the now dehydrate air pours into the arid Columbia Basin.

The end result is a diverse geology that influences daily life of the Pacific Northwesterner. Our highways twist through a maze of hills and glacier carved lakes, islands and inlets. Commutes almost certainly involve use of bridges, tunnels or even the world’s fourth largest ferry system. The variety of climates and landforms make practically every type of outdoor recreation reachable within a 2 hour drive. An appreciation for everything the ecosystem provides us drives the PNW to be a breeding ground of environmentalism.

As a photographer, this network of mountains, rivers, rainforests, lakes, waterways, islands, coastlines and arid lands provides a lifetime of photo opportunities, and is a major source of inspiration for my photography.

Here are 16 images that make me proud to call the Pacific Northwest home …

Sea stacks on Oregon Coast, Ecola State Park, Oregon, USA (Copyright Brad Mitchell Photography.9601 Wall St.Snohomish, WA 98296.USA.425-418-7279.brad@bradmitchellphoto.com)
01 Sea stacks, Ecola State Park, Oregon
One of the great things about the Oregon and Washington coasts are that they are heavily protected by State and National Parks. In fact, the Oregon Beach Bill grants public access to all beach areas up to the line of vegetation. 36 Oregon State Parks, separated by an average of only 10 miles, protect even larger areas, including the beach and sea stacks in this photo at Ecola State Park.
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Sea stack at sunset, Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington State, USA (Copyright Brad Mitchell Photography.9601 Wall St.Snohomish, WA 98296.USA.425-418-7279.brad@bradmitchellphoto.com)
02 Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington
Not only does Olympic National Park protect 73 miles of Washington State coastline, but also manages it as wilderness. This makes for some excellent year-round coastal backpacking (though it does rain 6 to 10 feet a year). These sea stacks were shot at Rialto Beach just after sunset.
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Driftwood strewn beach, Grandmas Cove, American Camp, San Juan Island National Historical Park, San Juan Island, San Juan County, Washington, USA (Copyright Brad Mitchell Photography.9601 Wall St.Snohomish, WA 98296.USA.425-418-7279.brad@bradmitchellphoto.com)
03 Grandma’s Cove, San Juan Island National Historical Park, Washington
The beaches on the San Juan Islands, however, are much more privately owned and have limited public access. But a few county, state and national parks do protect some of the best coastal areas. One of my favorites is this driftwood strewn beach at Grandma’s Cove, part of American Camp in San Juan Island National Historical Park.
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Coastal Trail through redwood forest, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, Del Norte County, California (Brad Mitchell)
04 California Coast Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California
Moving inland just a bit from the coast, moist Pacific winds dump several feet of rain each year into the world’s largest temperate rainforests. Why not take some of it in on the Coast Trail, which runs 382-miles down the full length of the Oregon Coast?  Or, try this equally pretty northern-most part of the California Coast Trail.
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Woman hiking on trail through temperate old growth rain forest, Hall of Mosses Trail, Hoh Rain Forest, Olympic National Park, Olympic Peninsula, Jefferson County, Washington, USA (Brad Mitchell/Brad Mitchell Photography)
05 Hall of Mosses Trail, Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park, Washington
Washington’s Hoh Rainforest receives some of the Pacific Northwest’s heaviest rainfall, totaling 12 to 14 feet per year, creating “…the finest sample of primeval forests of Sitka spruce, western hemlock, Douglas fir, and western red-cedar in the entire United States…”  (from 1938 Act establishing Olympic National Park).
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Un-named waterfalls fall into the Boulder River, Boulder River Wilderness, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington, USA (Copyright Brad Mitchell Photography.9601 Wall St.Snohomish, WA 98296.USA.425-418-7279.brad@bradmitchellphoto.com)
06 Boulder River Wilderness, Washington
The Boulder River Trail, in the foothills of Washington State’s central Cascade Mountains, is one of my favorite spring hikes. Waterfalls tumble over mossy cliffs right into the river, which itself tumbles through mossy boulders at the bottom of a mossy canyon. All is green, white and wet.
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Oneonta Creek flowing through Oneonta Gorge, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon, USA (Brad Mitchell)
07 Oneonta Gorge, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon
Another delightful spring Pacific Northwest destination is the 4000 foot deep Columbia River Gorge, where the Columbia River penetrates through the Cascade Mountain Range. The wet west side of the 80 mile long Gorge is full of waterfalls, cliffs and canyons, like Oneonta Canyon pictured here …
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Balsamroot and wind turbines at Windy Flats wind farm, Haystack Butte, Columbia Hills, Goldendale, Klickitat County, Washington, USA (Brad Mitchell)
08 Balsamroot and wind turbines, Columbia Hills, Washington
… while the dry east side of the Gorge is grassland. In this photo, wind turbines up on the crest of the Columbia Hills overlook a meadow of flowering balsamroot.
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Field of pink tulips, Mount Vernon, Skagit Valley, Skagit County, Washington, USA (Brad Mitchell/Brad Mitchell Photography)
09 Tulips, Skagit Valley, Washington
The fertile soils of Washington’s Skagit River Valley grow the most flowering tulip bulbs in the United States. The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival draws millions of people to view fields of millions of tulips throughout the month of April. I visit every year, arriving before sunrise to photograph the fields before the wind, the crowds and the traffic gets out of hand.
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Seattle skyline reflecting in Elliot Bay viewed from West Seattle, Seattle, Washington, USA (Brad Mitchell/Brad Mitchell Photography)
10 Seattle skyline reflecting in Elliot Bay, Washington
Seattle and surrounding areas are a hotbed of technology companies, medical research, arts, tourism and trans-Pacific trade, making it the hub of Pacific Northwest culture. In this photo, the Seattle skyline sparkles in Elliot Bay as viewed from West Seattle.
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Mountain goat in Bailey Range overlooking Hoh River valley and Mount Olympus, Olympic Mountains, Olympic National Park, Washington (Copyright Brad Mitchell Photography.9601 Wall St.Snohomish, WA 98296.USA.425-418-7279.brad@bradmitchellphoto.com)
11 Mountain goat, Bailey Range, Olympic National Park, Washington
The Olympic Mountains actually have their origin out in the Pacific Ocean. As the Pacific’s oceanic plate slides under the North American continental plate, ocean floor sediments get scraped up by and heaped up onto the edge of the continental plate, forming hills and mountain ranges called an “accretionary wedge”. Here a mountain goat high up on the Bailey Range overlooks some of these Olympic Mountains.
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Man hiking along snowy ridge, Silver Peak, Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Cascade Mountains, Washington (Brad Mitchell/Brad Mitchell Photography)
12 Hiking along snowy ridge, Cascade Mountains, Washington
The Pacific Northwest’ geographic diversity and strong environmental preservation ethic make it a breeding ground for outdoor recreational innovation and pursuit. Water- and mountain-sports of nearly all type are no more than a 2 hour drive away.  For me, sea kayaking, backpacking, climbing and other various forms of mountain wondering are at the top of my list.
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Tent glowing below Mt Baker on a clear evening, North Cascades, Cascade Mountains, Washington (Brad Mitchell/Brad Mitchell Photography)
13 Backpacking below Mt Baker, North Cascade Mountains, Washington
The Cascade Mountains include 13 stratovolcanoes in Washington and Oregon and form a portion of the Pacific “Ring of Fire”. Here my tent is set up below heavily glaciated 10,781 foot Mount Baker, Washington’s northern-most volcano.
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Woman setting up tent below Mount Rainier, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington (Brad Mitchell/Brad Mitchell Photography)
14 Setting up camp, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
And here our tent is set up below 14,411 foot Mount Rainier on one evening of a 95-mile backpacking trip on the Wonderland Trail, which loops around the mountain. Mount Rainier National Park offers colorful wildflower meadows in August that turn crimson in October and then become ready for snowshoeing or backcountry skiing throughout the winter and spring.
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South Sister rises above flowering meadow and Sparks Lake at dawn, Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, Oregon, USA, North America (Copyright Brad Mitchell Photography.9601 Wall St.Snohomish, WA 98296.USA.425-418-7279.brad@bradmitchellphoto.com)
15 South Sister rises above Sparks Lake, Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, Oregon
Here, the smooth waters of Spark Plug Lake reflect the South Sister, another volcano in the central Oregon Cascade Mountains. This is just one of many incredible views you will find along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway.
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Barn and rolling wheat fields below blue sky, Palouse area, Washington. (Brad Mitchell/Brad Mitchell Photography)
16 Barn and rolling wheat fields below blue sky, Palouse area, Washington
Once you get east of the Cascade Mountains, grassland, desert and farms become dominant. Here, a rustic barn overlooks rolling wheat fields in Washington’s agricultural Palouse region.
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